How Marathon Running Taught Me How To Have Grit

It’s been about a month since I ran my second marathon. I crossed the finish line with a time of 3 hours, 45 minutes, and 6 seconds. Let me reiterate: 3 hours and 45 minutes! Twenty whole freaking minutes faster than last year, when I embarked on my first ever 26.2. I can’t explain how satisfying it was to cross the finish line and see those numbers hovering overhead on the clock. It was seriously unreal.

Running has been my baby for awhile now, and I care deeply about the running community, but the marathon distance takes running to a whole new level. When you decide to train for a race of that length, you’re committing to a lot, whether you realize it or not. Because this wasn’t my first marathon, I knew what I was in for, though.

For four months before race day, I mustered up the discipline to force myself to venture out into sub-zero Vermont temperatures every day to get more miles in the bank. Sometimes I ran in the morning, other times I ran after class, but I basically ran whenever it would fit into my schedule. Running is more than a test of physical endurance. It’s a test of mental strength and patience. Whether it was a three-mile “easy day” or a twenty-mile-long run, each time I clicked off my Garmin watch, I knew I was just a little bit closer to my goal and race day.

Marathon training never seems possible until you do it.  Before I begin in February, I look at my run schedule and thought to myself how absurd running a marathon seems. I thought that there was no way I could manage it. “How did I do this a year ago?” I asked myself. “A 26.2-mile run? There’s no way in hell.”

But then somehow, little by little, you just… do it. First you try an 8-mile-long run, then a 10-miler, and before you know it, you’re so far from where you started that you have no choice but to keep on keeping on. I woke up in the morning, looked at my schedule, and committed to getting that run checked off. One day at a time, one mile at a time, sometimes one minute at a time, I just did it. 

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely complained here and there. I mean, who wants to go hike across campus in the middle of a snowstorm to go do a 12-mile treadmill run? The thing is though in the end, it really comes down to you versus yourself. No matter what excuses you come up with, deep down, you know that if running is a priority, you’ll get it done. You’ll make the time.

When I ran my first marathon, I didn’t know how much it would hurt. Time wasn’t even on my mind because all I could think about was forcing myself to keep going. The second time around was just as painful, but the only thing that changed was my mindset. Somewhere around mile twenty, I had to decide what I wanted and start making deals with myself about how I was going to get there. When I felt myself starting to slow, I told myself, “Your legs are already on the verge of collapsing either way, so you might as well pick up the pace a little bit.”

That attitude made all the difference for me. I knew that it couldn’t get much worse than that marathon, so I’d better get a good time. Growth happens when you choose to find your grit, both physically and mentally, when you choose to be tough with yourself because you can’t accept any other option.

If you ask me, training for and running marathons is one of the best ways to mentally prepare yourself for challenges, not only in athletics, but also in life. Running a marathon is so much more about mindset than anyone realizes. Ultimately, when life gets tough, remember why you showed up, and you’ll be able to push through any challenge. 

Ellen Arvidson

Originally from Connecticut, Ellen is an English major at Saint Michael's College in Burlington, Vermont. She loves running, skiing, and anything to do with Broadway musicals.

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